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A force for nature

When faced with the death of a loved one, it's common to feel a renewed urgency -- that feeling that it is time to live every day like it's your last.

Eventually though, we humans fall back into our old patterns and forget to really live every moment. Slowly we forget that to be truly whole we must take in every day and focus on what's most important. We lose sight of our greatest responsibilities: joyfully serving our family, our community and our planet.

For me, it will be different this time.

As I sat beside my close friend and co-worker this past Friday, I knew he was taking his last breaths. I was sitting beside someone who I can safely say lived life like every day — every moment — was remarkable. Up to the very end, he was someone who left nothing on the table.

Gary “Joaquin” Powell was a force of nature. Gary worked on behalf of wild places with dogged persistence and contagious enthusiasm, the likes of which I had never seen before. I had the great honor and pleasure of working with Gary for over 14 years as he built support for campaigns to protect rivers, forests and biodiversity here in Southern Oregon and Northern California.

I bet there are many of you reading this who knew Gary. It seemed like he was friends with every soul he ever met. He may have knocked on your door as KS Wild’s canvass director. Maybe you knew him as a member of the Elks Lodge. Or perhaps you went on one of his epic mushroom forays into the wild.

The way Gary lived his life is an inspiration to many. He didn’t hide his ideals, and those around him knew with certainty that he would act on them without pause or fear. That empowered many people to do the same. Try as you might, he could not be discouraged.

While I worked with Gary for over a decade, I only recently learned about how much he packed into his short 59 years on Earth. He was an expert sailor and a phenomenal downhill skier. I learned about his broadcasting career and camera work. I recently met his friends from when he ran a bed and breakfast.

What was really special about Gary was not just fearlessness. It was that he was so extremely kind to everyone he met and even to complete strangers. Too often sincere humility and kindness elude those with big personalities. Not Gary.

May we all learn what Gary knew so well. We have one life. We have one planet. We need to make the most of it.

We have a responsibility to do right by each other and by nature that sustains us all. Not tomorrow or some distant time in the future — the time to make a difference is right now.

While Gary was a force of nature, he directed this determination to also be a force for nature. As he told me, his work on behalf of wild nature was the most important work of his life.

I will miss him. I know many of you reading this will also miss Gary’s smiling face and warm heart. May we all live without fear, in this moment in time, for the greater good that is inside every one of us. Just like Gary.

Joseph Vaile is executive director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild, 541-488-5789, www.kswild.org). His Wild Side column appears every three weeks.

Courtesy PhotoGary Powell with a load of chanterelle mushrooms. Gary passed away but left an incredible conservation legacy for Southern Oregon and Northern California.